The Winds of Change by Darryl Morris
As I sit down and write this week’s blog, I’m struggling to see beyond the dark cloud of depression that casts its misery over every England fan this week. Here’s to those who have had the displeasure of being on air during England games. I worked out that should England have topped the group and progressed through the knock out stages, I’d have been working during their semi final. I’m also on air the morning of the world cup final. I did put these dates in my diary to keep on top of where I was working in relation to England playing; I’m trying not to imagine how that might have jinxed them.
Jinxing results was something we desperately wanted to avoid in the summer of 2007 but it was hard to contain a quite confidence that Bolton FM would be granted a full time community licence on the back of a very strong bid. Although I’d only been involved for a year or so, I felt the tension for those who’d been dreaming of this event for a decade. I was named in the bid, which was pleasing, but apart from that and training a few potential presenters, the business of the matter was alien to me. The news filtered through that Bolton FM had indeed won the licence & any form of celebration was somewhat overcast by a hunger to get on with the job. The hard bit was about to begin. I had an idea in my mind of how it would work. I imagined a Radio 2 that was purely local; something driven by personality and a service that showed full commitment to local news. I passed on my vision to station manager Kevan Williams who was interested in what I had to say. I also pointed out how important sport’s coverage would be.
UTV had recently dropped all sport coverage including full match commentary of Bolton Wanderers matches on Tower FM, clearly a cost-cutting measure but one that actually cost them dearly. In the Rajar quarter after UTV dropped this feature, Tower’s listening figures halved from around 100,000 to 50,000. I presented my findings to Dorothy and Kevan and they seemed impressed, so much so that they offered me a role on the steering committee.
The steering committee discussed ideas and advised the board of directors on programming matters. I never got chance to attend a steering committee meeting before being bumped up to the board of directors. This was fantastic. I’d always had an eye on the business of radio and had opinions and ideas of how things should work, sometimes I should have kept them to myself but this was exactly what I wanted to get out of Bolton FM and I jumped at the chance to join the board. I was still working in the BBC and had a fair understanding of how the industry worked. I could bring a bit of inside knowledge and a lot of youthful enthusiasm to the big picture. Youth was another deciding factor. As ‘Community Interest Company’, Bolton FM need to tick a certain amount of boxes. Having somebody my age on the board of directors would inevitably help on that score.
Community radio is a funny old thing; complicated fabric of people and passions. Different stations have different objectives and it largely depends on who’s running them. For us it’s a case of ensuring financial stability and serving the un-served while playing on our unique selling point; Bolton. We’re the only station truly local to Bolton and that will be our success maker. Bolton FM celebrated its first birthday on Sunday 20thJune and what a fantastic year it’s been. It’s testament to a dedicated team of hard working individuals who have radio in their hearts. That’s what drives them to work so hard and it’s the only thing that will ever make you successful. Particularly in a community radio setting, working not just as a team but as a family is important. Bolton FM’s strap line “The Voice of the Bolton Family” says it all. As for the bigger picture, it’s bright but uncertain. It will always be bright because of the people that drive it, it’s uncertain because the public sector is set to take a battering. The government allocate the same amount of money to community radio now as they did 5 or 6 years ago, despite their being hundreds more. Community grants are becoming harder to get and its almost impossible to find enough to run a successful business from that. That’s why commercial success is important now. With the scaling back of commercial services, job cuts and indeed show cuts, community radio needs to up its game. It needs to be ready to play with the big boys and fill the gaps that commercial radio has failed, through greed, to fill. It’s needs to be driven by quality programming and if it’s sold well, the commercial activity will follow. It needs to learn from the commercial industry’s mistakes (and there have been many) and put radio first.
I too was ready to step up my game. I was now in a comfortable position at Bolton FM and enjoying every moment as well as working hard for the BBC. The next gig was totally unexpected; as big turning points usually are… never did I expect a job on national TV…
To be continued…